A tobacco giant’s surprising call
T here is a significant opportunity in South Africa right now to create a smoke-free society, including smoke-free alternatives to cigarettes. This year, alternatives to cigarettes were introduced to the South African market, allowing adult smokers to switch to scientifically substantiated smoke-free products as soon as possible.
We are convinced that smoke-free products have the potential to present less risk of harm than continued smoking. We believe that products like these will one day replace cigarettes altogether.
Cigarettes are a dangerous product, and it is well known that the best way to avoid the dangers of smoking is never to start, or to quit.
Nevertheless, based on the World Health Organisation’s predictions, there will be more than one billion smokers by 2025. Therefore, alternative products that have the potential to significantly reduce the risk of disease compared with smoking cigarettes are a fundamental complement to the regulatory efforts aimed at reducing smoking prevalence.
Experts agree that nicotine, while addictive, is not the primary cause of smoking-related diseases.
The millions of men and women who smoke cigarettes are looking for less harmful, yet satisfying, alternatives to smoking.
People who smoke cigarettes for the effects of inhaling nicotine expose themselves to the harmful chemicals in smoke when tobacco is burnt.
Our approach is based on the acknowledgement that innovative products will benefit public health if they meet two conditions: first, they must significantly reduce the risk of disease compared with cigarettes; and second, they must be acceptable enough to smokers to encourage them to switch. The lit end of a cigarette can reach temperatures of up to 900°C. This high temperature causes a large number of chemical reactions to take place, breaking down the tobacco into thousands of chemicals that appear in cigarette smoke, many of them harmful.
New products include one that heats tobacco to temperatures of around 300°C, creating an aerosol and not smoke, which both minimises the formation of harmful and potentially harmful substances (on average 90-95% reduction) and maximises the likelihood of acceptance by smokers in delivering similar levels of nicotine as a cigarette as well as the natural tobacco flavours.
At this lower temperature many of the chemical reactions associated with combustion do not take place. Already three million people have quit smoking and switched to IQOS [a Philip Morris product], which is now available in 25 countries.
Creating a smoke-free South Africa is a mammoth task as the country has more than seven million smokers.
Consequently, all stakeholders in the industry have a critical role to play and the adoption of sound regulations that can significantly help consumers accelerate switching from cigarettes to less harmful alternative products is an essential component of a smoke-free vision, so the growing number of experts and governments that are taking steps to support the role that science and innovation can play in public health is encouraging.
We recognise that our scientific work must also be assessed by independent experts. We welcome such review and are sharing our scientific data for independent verification with qualified third parties.
The US Food and Drug Administration recently announced a new plan that places nicotine, and the issue of addiction, at the centre of the agency’s tobacco regulation efforts.
This is in contrast to past efforts to reduce smoking that focused on tobacco as the main target for control.
In December 2016, a modified risk tobacco product application was filed to the FDA that is currently being reviewed.
The UK Department of Health has also recently issued a new tobacco control plan, recognising the positive role of innovation and technologies such as e-cigarettes in a smoke-free future.
South African health policy specialists are at the forefront of innovation globally. This provides us with a unique opportunity to craft a historic regulatory framework for the country, and indeed Africa, that recognises the potential benefits of smoke-free products.
In pursuing our vision of reduced-risk products, we are eager to see measures introduced that drive large-scale switching as quickly as possible.
We are confident that the right mix of government leadership and commercial initiative will dramatically accelerate efforts to reduce the health burden of smoking.